‘Everyone comes through our doors at some point’

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Deputy registrar Jenny Jones. Photo: Mark Williamson R14/7/20/A0051

Gill Sutherland takes a trip to the reopened registry office (article published 16th July).

Since 1837 the Warwickshire Registration Service have documented every birth, death and marriage in the county.

And the service is finally getting back to a semblance of normality after months of upheaval.

Deputy registrar Jenny Jones is based in Stratford’s registry office on Henley Street, in a Tudor building next to the Birthplace. She speaks proudly and engagingly about the essential work they do.

“We’re gatekeepers of these very significant records. Everyone comes through our doors at some point in their lives. If you look through the records that are held in Warwick you’ll see a huge snapshot of society; like how things change over the years, occupations, the trend for names… it’s fascinating,” Jenny tells me as we sit in her office divided by a huge plexiglass screen.

The records from the past four months show only deaths: all weddings and births were put on hold during the lockdown. When Sarah and Eugene Briody tied the knot on Monday, Jenny was delighted to officiate at her first marriage in months.

Most engaged couples who have had weddings booked with the registry office have elected to postpone their weddings to next year to ensure they can celebrate in style. But Jenny says there is something special about the low-key weddings they are seeing at the moment.

“These stripped-back weddings are poignant, they reveal the essential essence of a marriage – a couple wanting to be together.”

She continued: “It feels amazing to be going back to normal. For six to eight weeks at the height of the pandemic we were recording double the number of deaths than usual, it was pretty hectic. It now feels like we’re stepping out from under a huge Covid shadow.”

Jenny’s only regret during that period was that the team were not able to offer bereaved families their usual face-to-face care and attention.

“Even though registering a death is a very sad event I find it amazing when people start talking about their loved one. It’s a privilege to share that, but at the moment we’ve had to do that over the phone which makes it harder to convey sympathy and make that connection, although as a team we’ve been working on how we do that.”

This week also saw the return of babies into Jenny’s world, as birth registrations finally returned.

“It was lovely,” smiles Jenny. “Although it was so very different as the babies were four or five months old, not the newborns that we normally see. We had some very grateful parents who had their children made official and took their birth certificates home.”

Sarah and Eugene Briody were meant to be getting married on 29th April, then moved the date to 1st July before actually getting hitched on 6th July. Sarah said: “For us it was about getting married rather than all the big celebrations – it was about us two declaring our love. “I met Eugene when he was nursing my dad, who was on end-of-life care. We got chatting and it went from there, and a year later we’re happy to be married. “The ceremony was just us, our two witnesses and the registrars – with our children watching through the window. My two are aged eight and 11, and Eugene’s are 16 and 19. “Afterwards we went to the Tramway pub for a small socially distanced gathering with a few close friends. “We’re looking forward to spending time as a family and making memories all together.”

The Freeman family – mum and dad Michelle and Chris, and big brother Tobias – welcomed baby Molly on 18th March but only took home her birth certificate on Tuesday. Chris said: “It’s an important thing, registering your baby, especially mentally for all of us – to know that she has a legal official name, Molly Laura Freeman. “We can now open a bank account for Molly and apply for her passport. Tobias, who’s six, absolutely adores his new little sister. We’re all really happy.”